Spring is a time of rebirth: blossoms and greenery emerge as cold and snow give way to warmer temperatures and longer days. It can also kick off a season of sneezing, headaches and itchy, watery eyes. Like a growing number of people, I’m allergic to tree pollen. Many say their symptoms have worsened over the years. They’re probably right.
We’ve upset the Earth’s carbon cycle by burning fossil fuels and destroying forests and wetlands. Plants help rebalance it by absorbing carbon dioxide and producing oxygen. Thanks, plants! A warming planet also means longer growing seasons and stimulated plant growth in many areas (although it’s causing drought and reduced plant growth in some parts of the world). And rising atmospheric CO2 actually increases pollen production. Add to that the extreme weather impacts of climate change that can exacerbate allergy symptoms and other respiratory problems (rain and higher temperatures create more molds and fungi in some places; more dust contributes to allergies and asthma in drought-stricken areas), plus the all-around increases in ground-level ozone, smoke and pollution, and you’ve got a recipe for mass discomfort, illness, death and rising healthcare costs.
There are many benefits to addressing climate change. One is that we’ll all be able to breathe easier. Photo courtesy of Shutterstock
Tests conducted by U.S. Department of Agriculture weed ecologist Lewis Ziska showed pollen production doubled from five to 10 grams per plant when CO2 in the atmosphere went up from 280 parts per million in 1900 to 370 in 2000, according to a USA Today article. That could double to 20 grams by 2075 if greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise.
“There's clear evidence that pollen season is lengthening and total pollen is increasing,” George Luber, associate director for climate change at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told USA Today. “It's one of the ways climate change is already affecting your community.”
U.S. research shows the pollen season there has lengthened by about 16 days since 1995 and the ragweed season by anywhere from a day to 16 days, with greater increases moving north. The Public Health Agency of Canada says ragweed season here is close to a month longer than in 1995 because of warming temperatures.
We still don’t fully understand the multiple impacts of global warming on allergies, or what else may be contributing to the problem. Increased chemical exposure and the “hygiene factor”—which shows lack of exposure to germs and the outdoors early in life can make people more prone to allergies—may also be involved. More research is needed, but that will require more funding.
This doesn’t mean people should stay indoors. Getting outside offers numerous physical and mental health benefits. Research even shows that kids who spend a lot of time outdoors develop fewer allergies. The David Suzuki Foundation’s 30x30 Nature Challenge during May provides tips and information about the benefits of outdoor activity. You can also take steps to minimize allergic reactions, such as going outside later in the day when pollen levels are lower and reducing allergens inside your home. If your allergies are severe, it’s a good idea to get tested by an allergist or doctor to pinpoint causes. From there, you can often find effective treatments.
Doing all we can to prevent climate change from getting worse won’t do much for allergies this season or next, but in the long run, it will make life easier for all of us, and our children and grandchildren. After all, this isn’t about plants being bad for people. We can’t live without them. It’s more about the natural systems that keep us alive and healthy being put out of whack by our reckless behaviour.
This year’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s Fifth Assessment Report concludes that climate change is real and that humans are largely responsible, mostly through burning fossil fuels and damaging or destroying carbon “sinks,” including forests, wetlands and oceans. The report also shows we still have time and opportunities to avoid the worst impacts, but only if we act quickly to protect and restore forests and green spaces and reduce our consumption of fossil fuels through energy conservation and shifting to renewable sources.
There are many benefits to addressing climate change. One is that we’ll all be able to breathe easier.
With contributions from David Suzuki Foundation Senior Editor Ian Hanington.
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A stretch of coastline in the Philippine capital, Manila has received backlash from environmentalists. The heavily polluted Manila Bay area, which had been slated for cleanup, has become the site of a controversial 500-meter (1,600-foot) stretch of white sand beach.
Sand Makeup Crucial for Ecosystems<p>While UNEP/GRID-Geneva generally supports finding <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/not-enough-sand-for-construction-industry-despite-abundance/a-49342942" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">alternative sources of sand</a> so as not to disrupt ecosystems in rivers and oceans when extracting them, Vander Velpen stressed it was vital to use sand which closely matches the makeup of the native sand to protect beach fauna.</p><p>"If you change the core characteristics of the native sand, the original sand, you need to do an environmental impact assessment (EIA) to find out how it's going to impact the ecosystem and nearby ecosystems," he told DW.</p><p>But according to Torres, such an assessment was not done in Manila.</p>
Beautification Stunt Instead of Proper Cleanup?<p>Manila Bay's waters are heavily polluted by oil and trash from nearby residential areas and ports. A huge "No swimming" sign warns visitors to stay away from the ocean.</p><p>Philippines' <a href="https://denr.gov.ph/index.php/priority-programs/manila-bay-clean-up/25-priority-programs/1825-frequently-ask-questions-faqs-on-the-dolomite-and-the-beach-nourishment-project" target="_blank">Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR)</a> has denied dolomite sand poses any risk to human health and the ecosystem.</p><p>However, scientists of the University of the Philippines have come forward disputing the DENR's claims. A <a href="https://biology.science.upd.edu.ph/index.php/ib-statement-regarding-dolomite-in-manila-bay/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">statement by the Institute of Biology</a> said that using crushed dolomite did not address any of the rehabilitation phases and instead was "even more detrimental to the existing biodiversity as well as the communities in the area," pointing to the case of water birds. "The dumping of dolomite in Manila Bay has effectively covered part of the intertidal area used by the birds thereby reducing their habitat."</p><p>At peak migration season, Manila Bay is home to 90 aquatic bird species, including species of international conservation concern that are facing a very high extinction risk in the wild. </p><p>Authorities should focus on protecting and conserving biodiversity, the Institute of Biology added. "Rehabilitating mangroves is an example of a nature-based solution that is cheaper and more cost-effective than the dolomite dumping project," the scientists said.</p><p>Moreover, <a href="http://www.msi.upd.edu.ph/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">the Marine Science Institute</a> has warned that prolonged inhalation of finer dust particles of dolomite could "cause chronic health effects," leading to discomfort in the chest, shortness of breath and coughing.</p><p>They also warned dolomite sand grains would erode during storms and be carried out to sea, essentially being washed away.</p>
Rehabilitation vs. Reclamation<p>Environmentalists say covering up the beach doesn't address the real issues of the bay. Torres and others believe the best way to clean up Manila Bay is not to add anything, but rather remove trash and pollution.</p><p>"There have been studies saying much of the waste comes from already collected waste — so these are open dump sites along the coast that get washed up because of the rain," Torres said.</p><p>She criticized the authorities for continuing to push reclamation projects she says are at odds with each other. These projects will affect large areas of mangrove forests, she said, and experts warn that this, in turn, exacerbates coastal erosion.</p><p>"If you've removed the areas that helped trap the sand, like mangrove forests, then the likelihood increases that you will have to nourish a beach. Same as building right up to the waterfront," said Vander Velpen of UNEP/GRID-Geneva.</p>
Plenty of Sand in the Sea?<p>The question of Manila's contentious white beach echoes larger questions about sand mining worldwide. <a href="https://unepgrid.ch/storage/app/media/documents/Sand_and_sustainability_UNEP_2019.pdf" target="_blank">Global sand consumption has tripled</a> over the past two decades, UNEP/GRID-Geneva has found. A huge chunk of it is now taken up by construction.</p><p>"Many operate on the assumption that natural sand is endless in its supply," said Vander Velpen.</p><p>Sand scarcity is a concern shared by Stefan Schimmels of <a href="https://www.fzk.uni-hannover.de/fzk_start.html?&L=1" target="_blank">Forschungszentrum Küste</a> who's done extensive research on shore nourishment to stop coastal erosion. And as climate change and rising sea levels are threatening coasts, demand for sand will grow even more.</p><p>A large study, the <a href="http://www.stencil-project.de/wp-content/uploads/2019/10/STENCIL_SWOT_Analyse_191026.pdf" target="_blank">Strategies and Tools for Environment-Friendly Shore Nourishments as Climate Change Impact Low-Regret Measures (STENCIL project)</a>, focused on the German island of Sylt, a popular vacation spot.</p><p>About 1 million cubic meter of sand per year is used to maintain the coastal area of Sylt, STENCIL project head Schimmels said. That's about 100 million 10-liter buckets of sand.</p><p>When sand was extracted off the coast of Sylt, underwater craters were formed. "You can still detect these craters even decades later," Schimmels told DW.</p><p>"Also when you add a couple of meters sand onto the beach — you essentially bury all things that do creep and fly," he said. "How quickly will they recover?" Schimmels said more research was needed as there was still too little known about long-term effects on the environment. </p>
Criticism Piling Up<p>As for Manila's artificial white sand, it looks like some might have already been blown away by a recent storm. DENR claims it wasn't washed away, but said that grayish sand, stones and other material had simply piled up over the dolomite sand. People in Manila have tweeted photos showing how the storm has ravaged the beach. </p>
<div id="adc0b" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="98f9390db6bb81cb421aaf0bb9d9a6fb"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1318816633280851969" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">Exactly one month after giving excited netizen a glimpse of Manila Bay white sands, look what happened now after ju… https://t.co/X0Z9i0bPB0</div> — M*A*S*H (@M*A*S*H)<a href="https://twitter.com/Magtira_Matibay/statuses/1318816633280851969">1603265362.0</a></blockquote></div><p>Authorities have been called tone-deaf for spending around 389 million pesos ($8 million) on a beach nourishment project in the middle of a raging pandemic.</p><p>An image of cake iced with the words "It really hurts - that's [worth] 389 million pesos?" has since gone viral.</p>
<div class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="4387aad52ea316e4db7330052318ca2f"><div class="fb-post" data-href="https://www.facebook.com/theweekendpatisserie/posts/144564207350008"></div></div><p>"It's just a waste of precious resources," Torres said. </p><p>The environmental activist now also worries that she might be labeled a terrorist for speaking out under the <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/philippine-anti-terrorism-law-triggers-fear-of-massive-rights-abuses/a-53732140" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Philippines' controversial new anti-terrorism law</a>. She says she could be arrested for inciting fear when talking about environmental dangers.</p>
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